Opinion: The Georgia blueberries were too ripe for picking

Credit: Walter Reeves

Credit: Walter Reeves

Georgia Democrats were ready to use a Capitol Hill meeting of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee earlier this week to provide a little public relations boost for the state’s blueberry industry.

But things did not go as planned.

Instead of enjoying a few smiles and pats on the back about Georgia agriculture, panel chair U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, had to endure the slings and arrows of Republicans incensed that the committee was spending time on insignificant matters.

“Mr. Chairman, what are we doing here?” said an aggravated U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., as he loudly rattled off a list of bipartisan agriculture bills, arguing those should be on the agenda instead of Congress proclaiming National Blueberry Month.

“These are serious pieces of legislation for serious times,” Johnson said, as GOP lawmakers urged action in the committee on drought, wildfires, and more.

“God Bless blueberry growers,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., who echoed the concerns of Republicans. “But I’m struggling to understand the priorities of this committee.”

Scott ignored the barbs, yielding to a fellow Georgia Democrat who happily touted the blueberry measure.

“I’m proud to introduce this resolution today,” said U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, who in the past has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider buying more Georgia blueberries for use in federal nutrition programs.

“I’m very honored to live and to represent a state that is arguably number one in blueberries,” Bishop said in a cheerful tone.

But that didn’t last long.

Soon enough, it was Scott versus Scott, as U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, squared off with his Georgia Democratic colleague of the same last name, pressing repeatedly for information about farm-related provisions in a giant reconciliation bill now before Congress.

“Mr. Scott, this is a resolution on blueberries,” David Scott said slowly, after being prompted by a staff aide.

Republicans also wondered why Scott was having the panel act on a measure to retroactively designate July 2021 as National Blueberry month.

“So, we’re spending time in here voting on a bill to designate a blueberry month,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., “for a month that’s already passed.”

By the time the debate made it to another Georgia Republican on the committee, it was very clear where the day was going.

“We’ve got serious issues in this country that we have to address, and we cannot ignore them,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, even as he noted that his ‘district is a large portion of why Georgia is number one in the blueberry industry.”

In the end, the blueberry resolution passed on a voice vote in the Agriculture Committee.

But it didn’t leave a good taste behind.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com